Arranology

Archive for November 2003

Bush in England

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This is one of those rare occasions I once spoke of when it seems to me worthwhile to reproduce a short piece in its entirety. In this case, an editorial from The Independent reprinted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer concerning Bush’s visit to England:

Wednesday, November 19, 2003Guantanamo hangs over Bush visit

THE INDEPENDENT
EDITORIAL COMMENTARY

The state visit of President Bush has come to signify all that has gone wrong with transatlantic relations. The royal pageantry that should be a public demonstration of amity is being hidden behind the walls of the Buckingham Palace. The crowds that would, under other circumstances, be cheering this country’s most stalwart ally, will be marching in protest. The president will move only in a sealed bubble of security. It will be a tense and contentious three days.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, for all his assertions that this is the right visit at the right time, has been let down by Bush over the postwar strategy for Iraq, over the Middle East and, most urgently, over the disgrace that is Guantanamo Bay. Common values — that mantra of the U.S.-British relationship — repeatedly were invoked by both sides on the eve of this visit. There have been times in the past when this concept may have seemed a little too elastic for the tastes of one side or the other; rarely has it been so thoroughly betrayed.

There is much that we do not know about the prison regime at Guantanamo Bay, for the simple reason that the U.S. authorities — traditionally a beacon of openness compared with their counterparts in Europe — have kept international observers out. The administration, therefore, has only itself to blame if we draw the most negative of conclusions based on the few crumbs of information that have escaped from behind the barbed wire.

We do know, for example, that the United States has refused to recognize its captives as prisoners of war and that it is flouting the terms of the Geneva Conventions. We know that most of the prisoners have no contact with their families for months on end, if at all, and no access to lawyers. We know that they have been held in this U.S.-leased corner of Cuba for the best part of two years now, without charge, without trial and without any idea of when, if ever, they will be released. We know there have been suicides, attempted suicides and depression. We know, most disgracefully, that some captives have been subjected to torture.

We also know that, of the 400 or so prisoners remaining at Guantanamo, not one is an American citizen. Any Americans were whisked away many months ago to face their own justice — a relatively merciful brand, as it turned out, in most cases, thanks to plea-bargaining and the information they were deemed likely to impart.

The prison camp at Guantanamo Bay is an absolute negation of everything the United States professes to stand for. There is no openness. There is no accountability. There is no justice. There is only the assumption that because these individuals were captured in and around Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s fall, they are, in Bush’s own words, “bad guys.”

What chance can there be of fair treatment when such a tone is set from the top?

The one glimmer of hope came two weeks ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the pleas of lawyers who are challenging the prisoners’ lack of access to the law. All lower courts had upheld the rights-deprived limbo in which the prisoners find themselves: held on U.S.-administered territory, which is nonetheless judged to be outside U.S. jurisdiction. The case will not be heard until next year.

Blair and his ministers have tried to secure guarantees that the British citizens at Guantanamo will — at very worst — receive a fair trial in the United States, and — at best — be repatriated to this country. In interviews before he left Washington, D.C., Bush said he envisaged a solution to the Guantanamo conundrum that Blair would be “comfortable” with.

That does not inspire confidence. No solution to the shame of Guantanamo should be about comfort or compromise. It is about human rights, state obligations and the sanctity of the law in a democracy held up as an ideal for the rest of the world. Anything less is as much a travesty of our common values as Bush’s three-day stay in Britain is a travesty of a state visit.

The Independent is published in Great Britain.

Now contrast the solemn anger and serious charges of that editorial with the carefully-crafted happytalk of Richard Stevenson’s coverage in the NY Times here and here.

In neither of these pieces does Mr Stevenson so much as mention Gitmo or Junior’s refusal to address the British Parliament or his insistence that he wouldn’t meet with the families of slain British soldiers unless the members of those families agreed with his policies or any of the international issues that have sparked huge protests in London (in fact, he barely mentions the protests at all). The closest he comes to dealing with Bush’s cowardice in refusing to face the British public, instead choosing to hide out in Buckingham Palace “for security reasons”, is this:

Mr. Bush never ventured more than a mile or two from Buckingham Palace as concerns about the protesters and terrorist attacks restricted his schedule. The White House canceled a plan for Mr. Bush to lay a wreath across from the United States Embassy because of security concerns.

Mr Stevenson doesn’t even attempt to summarize the protestors’ reasons for taking issue with Bush. After a scant mention of pretty large numbers on which he dcoesn’t bother to remark, he allows only one view of one protestor–for comic relief:

Mr. Bush got his first taste of the protests during the welcoming ceremony at Buckingham Palace. As the president moved down a receiving line with the Queen in the palace’s forecourt, a British protester with a bullhorn started singing, to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” a ditty mocking what Mr. Blair’s critics say is his subservience to Mr. Bush: “If you think Blair is a poodle, shout woof woof.”

Very substantive, Richard. Certainly this fawning copy that completely ignores British opinion and the British people, and that buries Bush’s arrogance and cowardice in a couple of sentences in the middle of the article is in the finest tradition of American journalism: kissing the ring of power

To be blunt, Mr Stevenson has no business working for America’s only national daily newspaper if he’s going to write this kind of tripe. If this is his idea of reporting, let him go back to the small-town newspaper where he started because he’s not ready for the Big Time.

Who hired this feeb?

Written by Mick

November 19, 2003 at 4:52 pm

The GOP Has Lost Its Way

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In today’s AJC, Martha Ezzard says something I’ve been wanting to say for some time but never got around to: it isn’t Democrats who’ve lost their way, it’s the GOP:

If the Democratic Party is the captive of the “loony left,” as [Zell] Miller claims, the Republican Party has sold its soul to the radical right and divorced itself from the First Amendment to marry church and state. Institutionalizing such extremism, the Texas GOP even has a plank in its platform pledging to dispel “the myth” of church and state separation.*****************

With the election of Ronald Reagan, the GOP turned its back on a long history of defending individual liberties and environmental preservation. Oil rigs now replace antelope. Party members pledge anti-abortion allegiance. Affirmative action must end.

I’m so old that I can remember when a moderate could be Minority Leader, when Republicans were against deficits and for less government interference in people’s ordinary lives. Now moderates are driven out of the party for insufficient intolerance and zealotry, Republicans have created the biggest deficits in our history in their effort to starve govt to death, and the right-wing radicals who now control the GOP have insisted that (their) govt have the right to control people’s private lives to a degree undreamed of when I was a kid, from which books we’re allowed to read or not to read to who we can sleep with and which positions and activities are acceptable if we do. As Ezzard points out from personal experience, it’s a long, painful way from the GOP of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt to the GOP of George Bush and Tom DeLay:

When my husband’s career took us to Colorado, I took a position as press aide to one of the nation’s last liberal Republican governors, the late John Love. Later I was elected as a Republican to the state Legislature, just in time to bump up against the Coors’ funded Reagan revolution in the West.”Isn’t this the party of Abraham Lincoln?” I’d ask my GOP colleagues as I marched with Democratic women for equal rights and abortion rights. No, came the answer, this is the party of Phyllis Schlafly and the cookie-baking Eagle Forum.

“Isn’t this the party of Teddy Roosevelt?” I’d ask, as I watched my environmental initiatives shot down by my own party. No, came the answer, this is the party of James Watt, the GOP interior secretary who was finally forced from office after opening wilderness areas to energy exploitation.

“Isn’t this the party of Dwight Eisenhower?” I asked as Republicans spent billions on a flawed Star Wars defense system that only kept safe the pocketbooks of the military-industrial complex.

In each case, Ms Ezzard, the answser is, “No.”

Written by Mick

November 19, 2003 at 2:15 pm

Blogosphere Round-Up: Bush Won’t Face Parliament in London

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Ezra at pandagon:

Murdering terrorists attacking our troops?Bring it ON!

Heckling by old white men?

Um, I’d rather not bring it on, if it’s all the same to you.

That’s the problem with the Bush Administration. When it comes to them, they never “Bring it ON!”, preferring instead to bury the offending report, release the unpleasant news on Friday night, or ignore the British Parliament. I want to see more of this stuff brought on…

Kieran at Crooked Timber:

One might have thought that a leader with thicker skin might have told the begrudgers to “Bring it on.” Bush’s aversion to explaining himself to people who might talk back is well known, of course, but it seems insulting to treat the representative body of your staunchest ally in this way. Some Tories appear to think so, too, though most of the anglospheroids seem content to bash Red Ken instead.Needless to say, the spin on the visit — see the same ABC news story — is that Bush is in London to “address” and “confront” those who doubt his policy in Iraq. He’ll just be doing this without, you know, addressing or confronting anyone.

Tim Dunlop at The Road to Surfdom:

Does it matter that George Bush won’t address the British parliament during his current visit? Of course it does. If the President is willing to launch wars and involve other nations in that adventure, the least he can do is explain himself to their elected representatives and hell, take a bit of verbal flack. It won’t kill him, which is more than you can say for many of those who marched off to fight his war for him.****************

Then again, I don’t agree with those who say it is a particular snub to the British parliament: it’s not like he opens himself up to hostile questioning at home. Presidential press conferences, especially ones where the questions aren’t vetted, are as rare WMD in Iraq.

I also don’t think it is a matter of cowardice on Bush’s part – it is simply arrogance. And that’s ultimately the point, I guess. Nothing underlines the haughty arrogance of this guy more than his unwillingness to explain himself at length in front of the democratic institutions, at home and abroad. Even in Austalia, where he actually did make one of his trademark charm-bracelet speeches of interlocked platitudes he was well-protected from the very mild interjection by an overly protective Speaker of the House and thuggish members of the government.

And so having experienced that little bit of turbulence in Australia, he has seen to it that he doesn’t experience anything like it in Britain.

Written by Mick

November 18, 2003 at 10:58 pm

Bush Won’t Meet with Troop Families Who Think He’s Wrong

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Via BUZZFLASH, London’s Daily Mirror is claiming that while Bush will meet with some families of British troops killed in Iraq, he won’t meet with any who think he’s wrong
:

White House aides were still locked in dispute over which relatives of dead British troops will meet the president amid fears he may be met with hostility.*****************

Downing Street admitted the president would meet relatives, and soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, on Thursday.

But asked if that included relatives of troops killed in this year’s Iraq conflict, Mr Blair’s spokesman replied: “The precise composition is still being worked on.”

It implied Mr Bush will not meet those bereaved families who believe the public was misled into conflict.

Wouldn’t surprise me if they’re right, After all, he’s refused to meet with the familes of any Americans killed in Iraq, or even acknowledged their deaths, for political reasons. And it’s typical of him that he would refuse to meet with the families of dead soldiers who disagree with his policies for fear “he may be met with hostility.” Junior is a serious weenie–it appears he can’t brook disagreement even from the families of people who have died for him.

But then, shameful behaviour is becoming routine for the Bushies. Tom DeLay’s using a children’s charity to do an endrun around the soft-money financing laws; Billy Tauzin and Pete Domenici got a so-called “energy bill” passed which is little more than a gift package of protection from lawsuits, yet more tax breaks, and obscene subsidies to the oil and gas gang; and the Publican Congress as a whole is busy “supporting our troops” by cutting their pay, benefits, and health care, and making them buy their own equipment.

Make you proud to be an American, don’t they?

Written by Mick

November 18, 2003 at 6:47 pm

Judge Roy Beaned

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A woman named Mary Schulken who is the editorial page editor for something called the Greenville Daily Reflector (good name for a paper) does some reflecting on Judge Roy Moore in a guest editorial in today’s AJC. It’s worth reading both for what it says and the clarity in the way she says it. It ends:

When a judge flaunts the law and wraps that act in God, it tells us what we need to know. The controversial slab of granite in Alabama is nothing more than a monument to arrogance.But when he becomes a folk hero, it suggests a perilous ignorance of the fundamental principle that safeguards religious freedom in America. For the good people who measure the worth of their souls by the Ten Commandments, those words are a source of constant hope and inspiration.

Yet freedom of worship requires more than the vigorous practice of one’s own faith. It demands, without fail, we exercise respect, tolerance and sensitivity toward differing beliefs.

Those acquainted with the teachings of Jesus Christ recognize that philosophy.

“Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them,” he says in the book of Matthew.

Funny, Judge Roy Moore didn’t say anything about that

James Madison couldn’t have said it any better.

Addendum: I posted the above before reading the other editorials, and look what else I found: a smart, acidic take on Moore and other Christian theocrats written by a Georgia high-school senior, JC Boyle. Here’s a sample:

Moore must have been attending an abstinence rally the day they covered the First Amendment in law school, because two tons of Judeo-Christian religious law sitting in a courtroom constitutes an establishment of religion.Even his argument that Mosaic law influenced the American legal system is absurd. The first four commandments are clearly religious in nature and serve no other purpose, and only three of the commandments (murder, theft and bearing false witness) are established law.

Moore’s supporters are guilty of a peculiar hypocrisy. When a federal judge ordered “Roy’s Rock” away from the courthouse, an angry supporter of theocracy shouted before the television cameras to the movers, “Take your hands off my god!” thus violating the fourth commandment against “graven images.”

Good point, JC.

Written by Mick

November 18, 2003 at 4:25 pm

Terrorist Futures Market: Place Your Bets

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This little gem was brought to my attention by Kryton over at ChristopherLydon.org. I don’t know whether to thank him or wish he had minded his own business.Remember John Poindexter’s flyer at the Pentagon a couple of months ago? The one where he was going to create a Terrorism Futures Market so rich investors could bet on when and where the next bombing or kidnapping was going to be? Remember how shocked and outraged we all were? Remember how the reaction was so negative, appalled as we all were, that the Pentagon was forced to kill the project? Bet you thought, “Well, that’s the end of that bad idea.” I did.

Well, we were wrong:

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – A U.S. government plan to create a market allowing traders to bet on the likelihood of terror attacks and other events in the Middle East has been revived by the private firm that helped develop it.The market, called the Policy Analysis Market (PAM), will allow traders to buy and sell contracts on political and economic events in the Middle East, including assassinations, the overthrow of regimes and terrorist attacks. The market is scheduled to start trading next spring.

Yup. To quote Kryton, “It’s ba-a-ack!” Only this time it’s going to be run by only one of the original private partners:

The Pentagon’s partners in the venture would have been San Diego-based market technology firm Net Exchange and the Economist Intelligence Unit, publisher of the Economist magazine. The Economist is no longer involved, and Net Exchange is pursuing the venture alone, according to its president, Charles Polk.In response to the highly charged criticisms that ended the Pentagon’s association with the project, Polk noted the market is designed mainly as a research tool, not unlike the Iowa Electronics Markets, which have done a pretty good job of predicting the outcomes of presidential elections.

“It is potentially an interesting alternative to Gallup polls or to specialists reporting from the region,” Polk said. “It’s a way of going directly to individuals in the region or outside who have knowledge or interest in the political and economic events in the area.”

Polk said Net Exchange would initially limit the amount of money traders could invest in the market, so that people won’t be profiting from violence or upheaval in the region.

What’s more, the futures contracts would be based on general questions, such as the likelihood that the King of Jordan will be overthrown at some point during the second quarter of 2004, for example, rather than on specific acts or events, which could lend themselves to manipulation by terrorists.

“There are no financial incentives for nefarious activities,” Polk said.

No? Then how are your investors going to profit, Polky? Hmmmm? I mean, isn’t “what’s the likelihood that the King of Jordan will be overthrown at some point during the second quarter of 2004?” a fairly specific question? You so naive that you think disallowing use of an actual date will deter bettors from trying to fix the game? All that does is widen the window of opportunity:

“Hurry, Habib–we only have until the end of the second quarter to foment rebellion!”

“Calm yourself, Zayed. I am lining up the last of the disaffected Colonels now. We’ve plenty of time–the end of the quarter is still six weeks away.”

“You move too slowly, Habib. It’s a good thing the market is so open-ended. If we were tied to a specific date, you’d probably sleep through it and our $100K investment would go down the camel’s chute.”

And btw, what does “limit the amount of money traders could invest” mean? I can readily believe that a limit of $10 wouldn’t yield enough reward to justify assassinating a public figure or blowing up a hotel. But then, it wouldn’t be enough to draw the kind of people they need to make the market fly. We have to be talking a fairly high 6-figure maximum at least. Maybe Mr. Polk from his Central Ave penthouse wouldn’t kidnap an American Consul’s kid for a mere $50,000, but I’ve got a flash for him: there are plenty of others who would. Form a syndicate and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

It was a bad idea then, it’s a bad idea now.

And while we’re at it, could we shut down those obscene Iowa “Electronics”(?) Markets?

Jeezum crow….

Written by Mick

November 18, 2003 at 4:19 am

SEC Failed to Police Mutual Fund Industry

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The NY Times, which has been specializing in understatement of late, has a lulu of a headline today: “S.E.C.’s Oversight of Mutual Funds Is Said to Be Lax.”

Lax. That’s a good one. What the article actually shows, like we needed to be told at this point. is that SEC oversight was–and is–non-existant:

The Securities and Exchange Commission failed for years to police the mutual fund industry effectively because it was captive to the industry when writing new regulations, was preoccupied by other problems on Wall Street and was severely short of staff and money, current and former officials say.

Since Reagan began lifting banking and stock market restrictions in the early 80’s, the financial sector has been acting like a 5-year-old whose Mom put him in charge of the cookie jar and then…left. We’ve had a series of scandals since then, each more severe than the last, ranging from the S&L debacle to Enron and Arthur Anderson, and on each occasion we were assured by the corporate financial community that these were one-offs, unique, individual criminal acts, not signals of widespread patterns of abuse of power or position in the industry. And in each case, we’ve chosen to accept this rationalization and ignore any evidence that countered our wishful thinking. The result was, as many of us have been saying for years, predictable: while we looked the other way, corporate and financial institutions have been stealing us blind.

The latest bunch are involved in mutual funds and the investment bankers that oversee them. A partial list of their…um, activities:

In numerous instances, top executives are accused of trading rapidly in and out of their own funds to reap profits at a cost to other fund investors.Many brokers failed to give appropriate discounts to customers.

And a large percentage of funds appear to have provided confidential and potentially lucrative portfolio information to large customers, possibly in exchange for their business.

Some regulators say that while many of these practices may have existed during the boom years of the 1990’s, they may have accelerated in more recent years as the market declined.

Uh-huh. And it’s also possible that oft-repeated messages from the Bush Admin that they weren’t interested in taking any action that might curtail in any way the brokers’ wholesale theft-ring may have goaded them on to new heights of larceny, maybe. Huh?

“There have been decades of looking the other way,” said Gary Gensler, a former Treasury under secretary in the Clinton administration, former co-head of finance at Goldman Sachs and co-author of the book “The Great Mutual Fund Trap,” published in 2002. “At its core, the scandals reflect the fact that mutual fund governance is broken and Washington has stood by and allowed it to remain broken, for a long time, without any real effort to reform the system to the benefit of investors.”None of the more than a dozen cases that have now been brought resulted from routine inspections by the commission, current officials said. Before the recent scandals, which were exposed by state regulators, the commission’s examination unit was never specifically assigned to look for the sorts of trading abuses that have been revealed.

While the last statement is factually correct, the reporter–Stephen Labaton–writes it with the implication that the examination unit was instructed to look for other abuses in other parts of the financial community. Well, it wasn’t. In fact, the “examination unit” has been starved for operating cash, manpower, and clout since Reagan de-regulated the industry specifically in order to cut down oversight, which he said “wasn’t needed”. Reagan conservatives have been whining for years that the interference of govt regulators was stifling the growth of the financial community and “preventing it from being flexible in responding to changes in the new economy”.

Well, now we know what they meant. They meant, “We could steal a lot more and be a lot richer if only those damn Federal busybodies weren’t looking over our shoulders all the time.” And we can now see that they were right: they did steal more. A LOT more.

The hipper of of those among you may be asking, “Well, what about Sarbanes-Oxley ( the law that was passed to replace some of the trading restrictions Reagan removed after Enron was unmasked)? Why didn’t that stop them?” Primarily because it turns out that under intense lobbying from the mutual funds industry, they were made exempt from a lot of its strictures:

[A]t the urging of the institute [the industry's trade organization, the Investment Company Institute--m], the drafters granted the mutual fund industry significant exemptions from some of the more important provisions. Those provisions enacted stringent conflict-of-interest rules, required greater disclosure of transactions between management and large shareholders, and imposed tougher requirements on management to monitor internal controls. (The institute ultimately failed, however, to persuade the commission to exempt it from requirements under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that mutual fund executives certify their financial results.)

Oh, too bad. They didn’t get everything they wanted. This is a little like a kid being disappointed at Christmas because even though he got the pony, the new Nintendo, a Ferrari, a $5000 gift certificate from Neiman-Marcus, his own tv set, a new laptop, and those fur bedsheets he wanted, he didn’t get the 40 lbs of chocolate bunnies because his Mom thought that was overkill.

All-in-all, I’d say the institute’s lobbying efforts were fairly successful, wouldn’t you? And of course, they didn’t stop with gutting the law meant to slow down their rate of thievery:

Moreover, some critics and former officials say that the commission has not imposed tougher disclosure rules and tighter management requirements because of the influence of the institute, an accusation that its executives strongly deny.Lynn E. Turner, a former chief accountant at the S.E.C. during the 1990’s, said that it was routine in weekly senior staff meetings for officials to consider the views of the institute and that senior staff members were always concerned about taking on the organization. He also said that it was rare for the commission to adopt a regulation against the institute’s wishes.

“They were one of the more forceful organizations,” Mr. Turner said. “You’re talking about people that were pretty wealthy. They had influence. Influence on the Hill, and influence with the staff.”

And they weren’t shy about using it. But what did we expect, really? We have become a country that worships money, and we don’t much care how that money is acquired. Why should we be surprised when people who have our money flowing through their fingers pinch a little of it off for themselves? Why should it shock us when powerful forces use their power to protect their own interests?

The harsh truth is, we shouldn’t be. What the mutual funds brokers did and the institute protected are actions embedded in the very nature of the beast. That’s what they DO, people. Like a lion hunts, like a scorpion stings, like a a piranha devours–that’s what they DO. If you’re in the middle of the jungle and lions are on the prowl, do you throw your rifle away because you expect the lions to use their better judgment and pace their tourist consumption? If you’re in the desert and surrounded by a scorpion colony, do you take your boots off under the assumption that the scorpions will respect the fact that you didn’t stamp them out when you had the chance and leave your feet alone? If you live near a river full of piranha, do you remove the fence that contains them and then blithely go swimming because you believe they’ve learned their lesson? If somebody did any of those things, we’d expect them to be dead within the hour and we’d probably add that they deserved what they got.

But that’s exactly how we’ve been treating corporations and financial institutions for the past 25 years: we’ve thrown away our protections like we expected they would go against their own natures on our behalf. Our behavior has been either remarkably naive or monumentally stupid, take your pick, and we have made ourselves a meal for them. We have put up huge neon signs reading, “Come and get it! We’re tasty, we’re tender, and we won’t lift a finger to stop you,” and then we profess ourselves surprised when the predators line up on our doorsteps, knives and forks at the ready.

Look, people, the Bible says that in a perfect world the lions will lay down with the lambs and everything will be hunky-dory. But this ain’t that world and we have to stop acting like it is. In this world, a lamb who lays down with lions expecting to get up in the morning whole and unscarred is in for a rude shock, and it’ll be the last thing they ever feel. We have to finally accept the fact that corporations and financial instiututions are by nature man-eating sharks, not harmless minnows, and take precautions against being eaten alive.

There was a time when we understood this, but then we let ourselves be talked out of our understranding by slick lobbyists who were either working for the sharks or sharks themselves, and we allowed our protections against them to be dismantled. Let’s just admit that we were bamboozled, that it’s our fault for listening to such tripe in the first place, and put the protections back. If we don’t, we might as well put our kids in lunch baskets and leave them on the stoop for the wolves because they’ll be coming for them next.

Written by Mick

November 16, 2003 at 5:59 pm

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